More discussion and more visibility for ongoing discussions of ethics are urgently needed. This has become clear to us through our involvement in various activities around ethics of e-research and of e-social science. With this site, we set into motion a series of new activities and interactions that will involve the preparation of a position paper on ethics of e-research.

There are many excellent resources on research ethics, many of which are linked on this site. What distinguishes this site and our activities from other endeavours about ethics?

Ethics as ongoing part of research

We seek to articulate ethics as a grounded activity, very much part of all aspects of research. As such, we pay attention to how researchers encounter and resolve ethical issues in the course of their work. We also try to stay close to researchers’ experiences and resources, which is why we consider that bodies such as IRBs can at best guide part of ethical research practices. Researchers also draw on disciplinary traditions, dominant norms in their communities and on their professional and research settings for guidance. We seek to make these aspects of research ethics explicit, and therefore also subject to debate.

Ethics in e-research contexts

Research in highly mediated and networked contexts has particular consequences for research ethics, since it redefines the relations between researchers and subjects, between researchers, and between researchers and stakeholders. In addition, there are particular infrastructural issues that exacerbate certain ethical issues. We seek to draw attention to the ways flow, fluidity and preservation of information can shape ethical issues for e-research.

Ethics as an integral aspect of e-research

e-Research has ethical implications. The motivations for doing it, the social, cultural, political and economic questions and issues it is seen to address, the greater efficiency it promises in gathering and processing information have ethical as well as knowledge dimensions. e-Research is poised to play an enormous role in our social self-understanding, and this too has ethical implications. We seek to understand the functioning of these internal ethical aspects of e-research — internal, that is, to the very rationale for knowledge, to its epistemology and its deployment to bring about social change – and to bring about a debate about what it means to be a socially and ethically engaged e-researcher.